Ugh, writer’s block!
Writer’s block is enemy number one to anyone attempting to live the creative writing life. We all know the usual version of it: staring at the blank page and seeing a wall.
But there are two other sinister versions of writer’s block that are easy to overlook.
Version 1 – “I can’t write because I have to clean the gutters”
This version makes doing ANYTHING ELSE BUT WRITING seem imperative. “I told myself I would write this morning, but that grout in my shower isn’t going to scrub itself.
And I really should learn to make jam today, I’ve been meaning to do that.
And maybe I should dust….”
I hate cleaning house, but when I have this kind of writer’s block, I turn into Mary Poppins tidying the nursery. The busyness makes me feel good. After all, I’m still accomplishing something.
It’s easy to forget I’m actually running from the work I want to be doing… writing.
Because, oh yeah, I want to be a writer, not have immaculate gutters that are the envy of my neighborhood.
If you can dodge this obstacle and manage to actually get to the desk and tune out the dishes, writer’s block will get mad and pull no punches.
Version 2 – “You will never be a writer”
And then there is the other manifestation of writer’s block: the ugly voices that come out to bash you where it hurts. The critical voices inside can be almost too much to take.
At its heart, writer’s block is every critical voice you’ve ever heard coming out to dance on your dreams in golf cleats.
And since “a dream is a wish your heart makes” (thank you Cinderella), your heart feels battered and bruised by these voices. It hurts! No wonder we would rather tackle the laundry than write!
Whenever I set out to write, my voices are waiting in ambush.
They say things like:
“What are you even writing? This is terrible.”
“You have nothing original to say. Why are you trying to write at all?”
“You don’t know what to do next. This novel is a hot mess.”
And the one that cuts to the heart of it all:
“There is no way this will ever be good enough.”
Oddly enough, the advice the voices give is always the same:
“Just stop. You should definitely stop… NOW! Don’t even sit down; don’t even try! Whatever you make won’t be good enough.”
Sheesh. Is it any wonder writers get blocked when we have those kinds of negative Nancys driving the creativity bus?
I say it’s time you take charge of your own bus and boot the voices to the curb.
The best way I know to deal with voices that spew out fear is to look them right in the face, listen to what they say, take a deep breath and say, “Okay… and?”
In other words, challenge the heck out of them.
Let’s take the “your not good enough and never will be so don’t even think about trying to be a writer, ever” voice. This one, in my opinion, is the evil mastermind of all the other voices. If you deal this voice a death blow, the minion voices will shrink back into the shadows.
When my voice looks at my writing or my little fledgling idea and says, “This isn’t good enough,” I like to say, “You’re right.”
That’s right. I let myself agree.
Because here is what I’ve learned as I’ve studied writing craft and process: a first draft doesn’t have to be good enough. I will say it again.
A first draft doesn’t have to be “good enough.”
And every time I sit down to write something, to create something new that didn’t exist before, THAT is a first draft. Nobody’s first drafts are good enough. Not Shakespeare’s, not Neil Gamon’s, not yours, not mine.
Let’s consider a writing/garden metaphor for a moment. Some writers plan out their garden, they make neat rows, study seed catalogs, and get everything mapped out before they stick one shovel into the dirt or plant one seed. But when the garden grows it will still be a wild thing with shoots spreading out all over, weeds creeping in, and big ugly cutworms crawling onto the tomato plants.
Other writers will throw a bunch of wildflower seeds wherever, won’t till the ground first, and if the fancy strikes them, will buy up whatever plants are on sale and half-wilted at Walmart and throw those in too.
My point: whether planned out or grown from the seat of your pants, both “gardens” will have to be pruned, shaped, and cared for to reach their full potential. Maybe some will need more shaping and tending than others, but neither will be “good enough” from the get go, at least if you want a good garden in the end.
In other words, your first draft was never meant to be “good enough,” or perfect. Because let’s be real, don’t we really compare our first drafts to finished and published books? Books that have taken years to write, revise, edit, edit, edit, rewrite, edit, proofread, and finally appear as a beautiful thing on a shelf.
It’s like comparing your kitten to a mountain lion and being angry that it can’t roar or hunt like a pro.
This is a first draft. This is what your are sitting down to write. You are planting the seed. You are watering the scraggly little bush. You are not whacking at it with the electric pruners because if you do that, it will die.
Do you hear me? Those critical voices, the ones that say it isn’t good enough, they will be your friends later on in the rodeo called revision. They will help you see which branch to cut, which area needs planting, where to throw some fertilizer.
But not yet.
Right now, you and your writing don’t have to be “good enough.”
What are some of your critical voices and are you letting them drive the creativity bus?
I hope you will boot them off at the next stop, sit back, and just write.